The growing trend of educating pre-kindergarten children has given rise to a new set of design parameters for educational facilities. Children as young as 3 years old have much to gain in their social and intellectual development from an early educational experience. Early-education centers (EECs) must be designed to meet the special needs of 3- and 4-year-olds.
Classroom sizes for this age group usually are larger than those for older children-generally 1,250 square feet compared with 900 square feet-to allow more space for larger materials, educational play and greater movement. Instead of 25 to 35 chairs and desks with perimeter storage, an early-education room is likely to contain chairs, tables and modular storage, as well as a toy kitchen, puppet theater, Lego table, painting easels and a manipulatives area for items such as puzzles or blocks. Each classroom has foldout pads for naps or rest time, and toilets.
Flexibility is important in classroom design. Generally, EECs do not have specialized classrooms for subjects such as art or science, so each classroom must be designed to accommodate varied activities.
Typically, a room is divided into several activity centers: wet, for science and artwork; dry, for manipulatives and imaginative play; quiet, for reading and work on computers; and active, which might involve play with puppets or a toy kitchen. Different activities take place simultaneously in small groups while the teacher circulates to observe and facilitate the children's work and interaction.
A classroom may have two teachers or a teacher and a full-time aide for every 20 children. The room's flexibility allows the teachers to arrange their rooms to meet their specific goals and change the layout of the room periodically to highlight educational themes.
Early-education centers do not have gymnasiums; instead, there are gross-motor rooms, which are smaller and more welcoming than a standard gym. These rooms include game lines on the floor for relay races and other games appropriate to the age group.